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Curr Opin Neurol. 2003 Aug;16(4):475-80.

Functional imaging of cognition in Parkinson's disease.

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Center for Neurosciences, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Research Institute, New York, New York, USA.



Cognitive deficits that occur even early in the course of Parkinson's disease have received increasing attention in current imaging research. The exact physio-pathological processes mediating the deficits and the complex relationship of cognitive signs and antiparkinsonian treatment are not well understood. A clearer understanding of these mechanisms could potentially influence treatment choices, drug development and, ultimately, patient care.


Abnormal networks identified in studies of resting state metabolism in Parkinson's disease represent metabolic markers for remote effects of striato-nigral degeneration. These metabolic changes include subcortico-cortical networks, in particular cognitive cortico-striato-pallidal-thalamocortical loops. Recent brain studies focus on intervention-related brain changes. They illustrate different task-specific changes in brain activation with deep brain stimulation and with levodopa. Variable results of stimulation can be attributed to different effects on segregated cortico-striato-pallidal-thalamocortical loops during stimulation. By contrast, the heterogeneity observed in studies with levodopa possibly reflects the disease-stage and task-specific effects of levodopa. A decline in caudate dopamine modulated basal ganglia outflow appears to contribute to executive dysfunction and to brain activation changes in these loops at early Parkisnon's disease stages, while mesocortical degeneration mediated increases of inefficient dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation may display a feature of more advanced disease stages only.


Despite evidence for the role of dopamine and cortico-striato-pallidal-thalamocortical loops in cognition, the specific contributions of mesocortical dopamine depletion and striatal dysfunction with downstream consequences on the loops remain to be separated. Additionally, more research is needed into the role of non-dopaminergic pathology in cognitive decline in Parkinson's disease.

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